We’d reached a turning point. We didn’t want to tell our friend Cynthia what we thought of her choice of husbands, and we didn’t want to ask her what she saw in brawny reactionary types. What did her three choices of husbands have to do with us? It would have been more pleasant socially if we could have tolerated any of her husbands’ company, and the way things had stood for many years was that we’d avoided being with Cynthia and her husbands as couples. When we did, say, go out to dinner with them, we’d constantly remind ourselves for days before to keep our critical thoughts about her husbands not just unsaid but unsuggested and not to make disparaging comments about their favorite politicians or pundits. As an extra precaution, I had a long-standing promise with Elaine not to use loaded phrases such as “narcissistic rage” or “paranoid fantasies” in their presence. If we had weakened and done any of these things they might have felt justified in airing their grudges and viewpoints. We often got wind of their views through Cynthia, who tended to sympathize with them and was entertained by their supposedly manly tales of fights and threats, a particular habit of her current husband, Crandall.
We kept our opinions to ourselves not only to circumvent self-righteous eruptions from her husbands but also to conceal our lack of respect for their beliefs and opinions. Not only did their beliefs and opinions offend our beliefs and opinions but our beliefs and opinions about them offended our beliefs and opinions about us. We disapproved of ourselves for looking down on them, but our efforts to use our rational minds to manage our thoughts and emotions never succeeded in putting them to rest. We have been relentlessly revolted by all of her husbands and think less of her for choosing them. We’ve talked to each other about what factors contributed to her choices. Does she love men who don’t take any crap from anybody, excluding of course all the crap inside their heads? Does she admire their strength and certitude and the simplicity of their values? All of the answers we’ve imagined imply disparagement of her and her values.
We understood that our intolerance of them could not be defended. Should we have looked in the mirror for the source of the problem? Perhaps we should have focused on the mirror, but we’d be lying if we said we did. We blamed her husbands, current and former, and Cynthia for choosing them, no matter what we would have found gazing at ourselves in the mirror. If she could have brought herself to marry a different sort of person there would have been no problem, or not this problem, and the fact that we had no control of her choices did not cause us to shrug and accept the predicament but instead made it harder to accept. Did tolerance compel us to deny or ignore our thoughts and beliefs? Should we have dumbed ourselves down in order to be at peace with her horrible judgment?
In frustration, I began to consider staging an intervention to separate Cynthia from Crandall. When I told Elaine what I was thinking she rejected the idea. She understood why I would imagine it, she said, but she asked me to consider whether my intentions were good or if they were destructive. I confessed that my intentions were both good and destructive. We both wanted to help Cynthia and I didn’t see how we could do her any good without openly attempting to end her marriage. Elaine said Cynthia would be outraged. And if this marriage blew up as the other two had, she added, Cynthia might end up with another man much like Crandall and the other ones. She’s not a victim in this, she said.
I could see Elaine was right. An intervention would have been completely wrongheaded, and I told her it angered me that the situation with Cynthia had led me to dream up such an absurd plan. Elaine said I was responsible for my anger, not Cynthia; she said I could be suffering from a case of narcissistic rage.
I’m turning into a crackpot, I said. I don’t like this conversation, but I’m tired of trying to censor myself.
I don’t like it either, Elaine agreed, and it’s going to be in our minds as long as we stay friends with her.
We looked at each other. I wondered if she was thinking what I was thinking.
Our friendship is not helping her with this, Elaine said. She doesn’t believe she needs help.
A lot of adapting and talking back to emotions comes with it, I said.
I’ll cut back with her, Elaine said. It’s been a lot of years and it’s wearing on us.
I’m out totally, I said.
I’ll eventually disappear to her.
We’ll see. You might blame yourself.
I hadn’t said anything to Euphoria about Coy’s predicament, but she knew about all of it or part of it. I asked Olivette if she’d said anything to Euph that would have clued her in, but she denied making even a hint of a mention. Why would Coy have said anything to her? Is there more between Euph and Coy than meets the eye? Could she be in some way involved in his predicament? If I asked Coy would he not want to answer, fearing a reaction and that what he said could find its way to X? Who else could it have been?
I wanted an answer, so I asked Euph face to face where she’d heard it. She tilted her head up and looked down at me. What I made of her look was that she didn’t think it was my business to know. I’d always thought she was trouble and didn’t like the idea of her keeping a secret from me. I asked why Coy would tell her. She looked at me as if she could smell me, and I was probably looking at her in much the same way. I wasn’t going to beg her for an answer, and I ended the conversation.
Later, I called Olivette to bring her up to date. Olivette said she’d already heard. Euph had told Coy I’d confronted her and Coy had spoken to Olivette, filling her in on Euph’s version of my so-called confrontation with her. Olivette said she regretted being in the middle of other people’s business and didn’t want to discuss the subject any further with me. I didn’t like her attitude, I told her. Why would she talk to Coy and then refuse to talk to me? Why had Coy called her? I asked her to start with why Coy had called. She hadn’t called Coy, she said, he’d called her. If I wanted to know why he’d called, I should ask him. I told her I wasn’t going to ask Coy why he’d called her. He wasn’t accountable to me, I said, and she replied that she wasn’t either. I hung up and paced around the room, arguing with her inside my head.
I tried to make up my mind I’d have nothing more to do with Coy and his predicament, but I couldn’t quite do it. What about X? I began asking myself. She had a right to know, and it was likely she didn’t know, though I couldn’t be sure without sticking my nose in deeper. If I sent a text to Olivette, say, asking her if she knew if X knew, an uproar could ensue. Yet if an uproar did ensue, would it be my fault? I couldn’t be responsible for what X didn’t know unless I withheld the information. Why should I think it was more important to conceal information about Coy than to let X know what we knew? I had nothing against X and couldn’t think of a valid reason for her to remain unaware, assuming she was unaware. Could any of us defend the idea that she should find out only if forces she and Coy didn’t want in their lives came knocking?
I became furious with Coy for putting us in this position. The four of us had been more or less friends going back to school days, though Euphoria had never seemed trustworthy to me, but how far should our loyalties go? Within the group, I felt the strongest connection to Olivette, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask what she knew of what X knew or why she had no qualms about her.
I slept on it, had nightmares on it, but in the end I chose the easy way and said nothing to X. My decision disturbed me, even more after I happened to see her at the grocery store, chunking frozen foods into her cart. As I neared, her eyes fixed on me. I could see she knew but hadn’t known and that she also knew that I had.
How did she know I knew? I had no right to ask.
Glen Pourciau’s third collection of stories is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2021. His second story collection, View, was published in 2017 by Four Way Books. His first collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, Epoch, failbetter, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, New World Writing, The Paris Review, Post Road, The Rupture, Witness, and others.